After going through shoulder surgery in December of 2014, Middletown offensive lineman Thomas Lopez has been steadily progressing with the passing of days in hopes of participating in workouts in front of college coaches. One word that cannot be used to describe Lopez is soft -- The 6’5, 283-pound tackle played all 12 games last season with a torn labrum and bicep tendinitis. Playing one of the most physically demanding positions in football with a constant injury is something that college coaches marvel. With the excruciating final stretch of his junior year looming, Lopez is anxious to get back on the field and show coaches what he’s capable of.
"I have 16 days left of school. It's brutal. It's been a grind, but I'm glad it's almost over," said Lopez. "It's going well. I actually had surgery during the middle of December, so I've been working that out. I'm looking forward to going to some camps like the Maryland camp and some others. I can't wait to show what I can do and how I come back from my shoulder injury. I played all 12 games with a torn labrum and bicep tendinitis. I had surgery a week after the state championship. I understand why offers haven't been coming my way yet. I'm ready to go workout in front of coaches now."
With the opportunity of previous visits, the prospect has a sense of familiarity and comfort and is looking to build on the relationships that have been established so far.
"Well first off, I absolutely love it," said Lopez emphatically when asked about campus. "It's a school that fits me. What I learned over this offseason with that coaching staff is just unbelievable. They really, truly care about the student-athletes more than just what happens on the field. They really try to mature you as an adult and that's what I love. Also, they really connected with me. I've been to a lot of schools where all they care about is their program and what they do on the field and that's not what it's about for me. When I talked to coach Edsall and his staff, it was unbelievable. I give him a ton of respect and credit for what he's doing and they're going to do big things in the Big Ten. I can already feel it."
Lopez has been able to develop a rapport with head coach Randy Edsall, as well as offensive line coach Greg Studrawa. The prospect credits his scrimmage viewing experience to seeing first-hand how things operate on the offensive line under Studrawa.
"I got to watch practice, which was great. I got to see how coach Studrawa really runs the offensive line. It was more of a scrimmage day. What I learned from him is he is really on maturity and he makes sure his offensive line knows what they did wrong before he has to come speak to them. That's the thing I really like. They kind of came together at certain points of the scrimmage and talked it over before coach Stud came over to talk to them. I really like that because it shows they know their stuff, watch their film and they take their time to really do right by each other. It's really good chemistry. And Andrew Zeller is probably one of my favorite offensive linemen right now. He's someone I really look up to and the way they speak highly of him is just amazing. He came in and talked to us during junior day and we got to ask him questions. It wasn't all about football with him which was nice."
Newly appointed defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski has been primarily managing Lopez’s recruitment, with Studrawa assisting. The message for Lopez has been very clear – help stabilize an area of need in Big Ten play.
"They just want depth on the offensive line. They never said anything about a position. They just want depth right now and I understand that. I'll play anywhere as long as I can play. I'll play anywhere for any coach. It doesn't matter. I'm not really worried about that necessarily. If I get the offer that would be an amazing opportunity."
As Lopez continues towards his offseason, four schools stand out with no clear pecking order.
"Syracuse has been really high, obviously Rutgers since they're in-state, NC State and Maryland are the four schools I'm really focusing in on now. I take an interest in any school that comes to visit me, but those four are the ones I'm focusing on. It's all about the academics. What they do for their athletes is amazing. Just the internships and what they can provide for after college is amazing."
With a busy summer of camps, Lopez will visit Maryland June 20th and Rutgers this weekend, hoping to gain his first offers. Lopez has a plan for his announcement, but knows anything can altered as the summer progresses.
"If everything works out the way I think it will, let's say I go to all four camps and get all four offers, it would definitely be before the season. I just want to get it done with and work on my season and academics with my school. I love the recruitment but I just don't want to drag it out."